South Wales Argus
November 12, 2013
‘Embrace Nato talks – the world is coming to Newport’
There was excitement last month when Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the military alliance would be convening at the Celtic Manor Resort next autumn, as well as venues in Cardiff.
With Barack Obama and other major world leaders expected to attend, Lori Healey, who was executive director of the Chicago Nato host committee, said that the summit is a unique opportunity to market the region.
As well as representatives from 28 Nato member countries, 24 Afghanistan International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) partner countries and six other nations and international organisations took part in the May 20-21 summit, with 7,500 delegates and 7,300 staff, press and other dignitaries.
Ms Healey explained, in an interview with the Argus, how organisers in Illinois dealt with cynicism towards the summit, how the committee was brought on board and how the summit was planned.
We asked Ms Healey what advice she would give to Newport and Cardiff about the summit. She said: “They should absolutely embrace it. It was a fantastic event for Chicago. You have 60 heads of state that come to your country.
“It’s a unique opportunity to show off. People spent millions of dollars marketing for tourism – it’s a free opportunity to do that.”
Ms Healey, who is chief executive officer of TUR Partners and has also been president of the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid, explained that the Chicago Nato summit had faced cynicism locally from “day one”.
“There was constant cynicism. A lot of people left town for the weekend,” she said, echoing the experience of the 2012 Olympics, when many Londoners took a leave of absence from the city.
But those who stayed, particularly those who lived near where delegates were staying, potentially had the world at their door. Ms Healey said: “You would walk out and see the King of Tonga walking down – that doesn’t happen every day.”
Media speculation was also an issue. “Because so many of these high-level security events don’t make public certain information until the last minute there’s always a lot of speculation about what’s happening,” said Ms Healey.
“I said to one of the reporters here, there’s a reason they call it the Secret Service. Your security plans are supposed to be confidential to the point that you have to release them.
“It’s a constant battle to say look, we’ve got this under control, there’s been terrific amounts of planning and in the end everyone came back and said, wow, that was really great.
“And I said, well, you didn’t believe us when you were talking about leading up to it.”
Newport’s experience of hosting Nato is likely to differ greatly, at the very least in security terms, from Chicago’s experience. While the Celtic Manor is on the edge of Newport and shares much of its border with countryside and has its own junction off the A449, Nato 2012 took place at a city convention centre, McCormick Place, on the edge of Lake Michigan.
The US Secret Service co-ordinated security at the event, with the Chicago Police department acting as boots on the ground, with members of the public kept up to speed on how decisions could affect them.
That could include road closures, which occasionally took place when a head of state who carries a high-level threat risk, like David Cameron, had to move from one place to another. Ms Healey explained: “A motorcade could be four cars or could be 60 cars. In the morning when they left their hotels and went to McCormick Place you would have a fairly large motorcade.
“Obviously in a less urban environment the impact is not quite as big. There was a great deal of time spent planning routes, and ensuring to the public and the workforce that came downtown every day that it was clearly communicated when those motorcades would happen.”
Major international summits also tend to face major protests. News agency Reuters reported that 45 demonstrators were arrested after anti-war protesters had marched on the summit.
Ms Healey said the city, and not necessarily the host committee, had negotiated with protesters’ lawyers to make “sure that routes were planned and there was clear communication of issues and how they would be moving through the streets”.
With so many people at the summit the host committee, which was made up of donors who had contributed £35 million to organise the event, took advantage of the opportunity to promote the city.
It went to Brussels, where the Nato headquarters is based, for a week with Chicago’s first lady, the city’s mayor Rahm Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule, hosting a dinner at the US ambassador to Nato’s residence.
A media hotel was set up during the event with the host committee showcasing the city’s food and culture and throwing a party for the foreign press.
But events were also organised in the community to engage Chicagoans with the summit.
“We had some schools would adopt a country and learn about that country,” said Ms Healey. “We had a sports competition before the summit started that had soccer and basketball tournaments. We had kids from different schools representing different countries in Chicago, so they got to spend the day, for example, learning about Croatia.”
On one occasion a musical exchange – via teleconference – was held between a school in Chicago and a school in Afghanistan. Host committee co-chairman and former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright also visited schools “talking to children about the importance of learning about other countries and what’s happening on the national stage”, said Ms Healey.
Meanwhile Gwent Police confirmed that officers from across the UK will be brought in to help police the event.
She said: “We are confident that the summit will be seen locally, and indeed nationally, as an opportunity to showcase a modern and confident Wales to the world as a great place for investment and tourism.
A Gwent Police spokeswoman confirmed that the force will get additional UK government funding to support policing the event.